The Role of National Anthems in Constructing National Identities in the Atlantic World

Beginning in the late 18th century, the Atlantic world experienced a birth of new states rooted in common ideas such as liberty. These newly created nations were no longer connected by ethnic similarities, but instead by ideas and values, bringing together people of more diverse backgrounds than nation-states in the centuries before. New legal systems and governments outlined these new ideas in constitutions, but this was mere state-building. Identity on the other hand, is rooted in nation building. The births of the French Republic, the United States, Liberia, and Haiti involved revolutionary action that united them during their struggle against superior powers. However, this unifying idea of revolution tends to fade once the oppressor is removed, resulting in crucial years of instability. One way to unify people during this time was music. Historically, music has played a central role in forming cultural identities. For many years, music was intrinsically tied to ethnicity, serving as a form of homogenous bond. In the absence of homogenous bonds, members of these new countries combined music with the states’ foundational ideals, leading to the creation of national anthems. National anthems combined shared ideas, values, and history in an emotional context, ingraining these unifying forces into a new culture and creating national identities in nascent, revolutionary states.